Nigeria is a major market for sportsbooks, given the popularity of sports there. The economy is also growing rapidly, with rising incomes making sports betting sites an accessible form of entertainment for many Nigerians.
Like many of its African and Asian counterparts, however, Nigeria lacks the proper legal framework to deal with gambling in the internet age. This is clearly seen when comparing Nigeria’s regulations with developed economies like Australia, for example.
Let’s take a quick look at the main features of gambling regulations in Nigeria and try to find out where sports betting stands in the eyes of the law.
Two Laws Governing Nigerian Gambling
To say that gambling laws in Nigeria are outdated would be an understatement. In the Nigerian legal code, gambling has two laws related to it, and both are between 30 to 40 years old!
These are the two laws that specifically mention gambling in Nigeria:
1. Game Machine Prohibition Act of 1977
The former essentially prohibits the ownership and operation of coin-operated gambling machines such as slots. It has no implications on sports betting.
The Criminal Code identifies the legal form of gambling and the places where you can go for this form of entertainment. Under Nigerian law, games of skill are allowed, which is good news for sports betting fans.
Games of chance/luck are strictly controlled and prohibited in most countries. The only notable exception applies to the three land-based casinos in Nigeria – they are allowed to host games of chance such as roulette and slot machines.
If you explicitly follow the code, sports betting is not illegal in Nigeria. The reason is that winning sports bets is not based entirely on luck. If you do your research and gain advanced knowledge of teams and match conditions, you can increase your chances of winning.
But note that this law only applies to land-based sportsbooks, which are only allowed to operate as handheld betting pools with a valid license. If they offer other types of gambling, they can invite prosecution and heavy fines and imprisonment for operators.
The gray area around online betting
The internet has radically changed the way we do many things in our lives, and gambling is no exception. As this is a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged on the global scene in the last two decades, legislation is still trying to catch up in many parts of the world.
In the west, countries like the UK have taken sportsbooks and online casinos wholeheartedly. Even the US has only started adopting pro-gambling laws on a large scale since 2018.
On the other hand, Nigeria still has no regulations to regulate online gambling. This is a huge loss for the industry as a whole, but the risk is more for the provider than the player.
What we need to understand about online gambling in Nigeria is that it is not explicitly prohibited. Online gambling is not mentioned in the law books. So if there is a criminal case or prosecution, you have to interpret the existing laws regarding offline gambling.
This lack of clarity has led to a widespread proliferation of unlicensed online gambling entities in Nigeria. Players can also register and play at the many legal casinos based overseas. Since prosecution of players is unheard of, people can bet fearlessly at these casinos and sportsbooks.
Online sportsbooks have additional advantages
In the absence of specific laws regarding online gambling, sportsbooks have an advantage over online casinos. Online Casinos in Nigeria use games of luck/chance, such as slots, roulette, and lotto. Existing laws mandate that this activity is illegal offline. So it makes sense that they would be considered illegal online as well.
In contrast, sports betting is based on skill, which is legal in Nigeria. By the same logic applied above, online betting on sports should never be illegal, as it involves skill and preparation and not just blind luck.
Football rules the sports betting market in Nigeria
Since the early 2000s, Nigerian stars such as Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu have raised the profile of Nigerian football in European leagues such as the English Premier League. Issac Success, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Victor Moses all played for English clubs in 2019.
As a result, Nigerians watch and follow their Super Eagles stars in the Premier League, and English clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United have huge fan bases in the country.
Sports betting on domestic as well as foreign club matches is a big market in Nigeria these days. You can find offline bookies as well as foreign online sportsbooks accepting Nigerian punters in 2019.
While football is by far the largest betting market in Nigeria, other sports are also available. This includes basketball, tennis, athletics, all of which have takers. Another interesting local sport with a large following is Dambe Boxing, a traditional form of martial arts sport in Nigeria.
Online sports betting is relatively safe in Nigeria
Because it is not overtly prohibited, betting on sports in Nigeria carries less risk than many other countries in the world. The police and authorities are not particularly interested in focusing on gambling, as their hands are full of the more violent forms of crime and terrorism.
Even if they do end up prosecuting illegal gambling operations, most operators and businesses are facing the wrath of prosecutors. Players are usually never targeted by the authorities in Nigeria.
But the current situation is not sustainable. With the betting industry growing, the government is missing out on important taxes by ignoring online betting. Surely things will change in the near future as online betting will grow too big to be ignored by the authorities.
Until that happens, Nigerian bettors are safer when they bet on sportsbooks and licensed offshore casinos. This at least offers some form of player protection, which is completely absent in unlicensed local sportsbooks and casinos.